The new year is beginning with an incredible boost from the remarkable performance of Rachel Maddow’s program on MSNBC. She has been dominating her Fox New competition, Sean Hannity, ever since the midterm election in early November. But her numbers for December are truly spectacular and may indicate a monumental shift.
The success of Maddow’s program may even be getting to Donald Trump. While he has never tweeted about her since becoming president, he did run an ad on Facebook that featured her as his top nemesis. Trump is notoriously frightened by strong women (see his fearful behavior around House Speaker Nancy Pelosi). And he has good reason to be scared of Maddow. Her program provides some of the most incisive, detailed accounts of Trump’s criminality and analyses of the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller. That attention to the facts in a comprehensible form has paid off for Maddow.
The Nielsen ratings for The Rachel Maddow Show have exceeded in almost every way possible. She beat the Sean Hannity show every single day for the entire month of December. Granted, he was on vacation for a small part of that time, but so was she. The numbers weren’t even close. Maddow topped Hannity by a whopping forty-seven percent in total viewers. She also whooped him by twenty-one percent in the all-important advertising demographic of 25-54 year olds.
What’s more, Maddow powered MSNBC to historic highs. The network was the third most-watched channel in primetime for all of cable TV, not just cable news. And it was the second most-watched basic cable network across the 24-hour day for 2018. It was the only network that posted double-digit growth over the prior year. And it was number one among African-American viewers for the year.
The rest of the MSNBC schedule also enjoyed record ratings. Lawrence O’Donnell, Brian Williams, and Nicole Wallace regularly beat their time-period competitors. And the dayside programs with Katy Tur, Andrea Mitchell, Ali Velshi, Stephanie Ruhle, Chris Hayes, etc., leaped to new highs. And all of this happened while Fox News either declined or made impotent gains of one or two percent.
This should inform the rest of the media that intelligent, honest, reporting and analysis is a winning programming strategy. The public is tired of deliberately hostile panels and ridiculous attempts to balance facts with lies and nonsense. And as the new year progresses with more revelations from Mueller and the expected oversight hearings in the new Congress, the media needs to rise to the occasion and fulfill its obligations to the people.
That means rejecting Trump’s anti-constitutional assaults on the free press that he frames in Stalinist terms as “the enemy of the people.” Maddow proves that when the press respects the principles of ethical journalism, rather than devolving into State TV flunkies (aka Fox News) the people will reward them with their viewership, trust, and loyalty.